All You Need Is Love: Pamela Love

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Sparkling baubles don’t cut it in Pamela Love’s world of daggers, crow skulls and scorpions – ROLLING STONE meets the American jewelry designer with real bite.

By Claire Carruthers
Sep 02, 2013

“You can buy fashion. You can’t buy style,” Pamela Love has been known to say. Her own style, an Americana-heavy mix of the masculine and feminine – rock and grunge with a bit of hippie thrown in for good measure – has become the uniform for burgeoning models and Manhattan’s Downtown creative crowd. She has been labeled “morbid,” thanks to her most editorialized work – macabre human heart, claw, dagger and crow motifs on everything from battered bronze bracelets to antique silver pendants – but it’s a signature with a positive flipside that she proudly defends: the iconography may be ‘dark’ but according to Love her pieces serve as “reminders of mortality.” “When you can face your own death,” she says, “you can live life to the fullest.”

Love certainly seems to be doing just that: those first gothic-y, tribal-inspired designs she created in the basement of her Brooklyn apartment in 2006 have grown into seasonal collections and a thriving international brand that has spawned a well-stocked awards cabinet (with the CFDA Accessory Design Winner 2013 trophy, no doubt taking pride of place) and a host of successful collaborative projects: She worked with director Spike Jonze on a collection inspired by his movie Where the Wild Things Are for avant-garde retailer Opening Ceremony; she’s the first American designer to collaborate with high-street heavyweight Topshop and has recently designed a collection for fashion house Zadig & Voltaire; and her creations have graced the catwalks of Zac Posen and SUNO.

Although born in Brooklyn, the designer spent most of her formative years in southern Florida (“I always miss the beach life of Florida – and never being cold!”) before returning to the New York borough to set up home in a typically eclectic brownstone.

“My favorite thing about living in New York is just how proactive everyone is,” she says. “Everybody is really working on a million projects at once, and doing a million things. I think you meet some of the most interesting, talented people, and also have the opportunity to work with them. I think that’s something that’s really unique and rare, and very much a New York thing.”

Love is no exception. As a girl, she wanted to be “a painter or a sculptor” and studied fine art and film at New York University before working as a buyer for a vintage clothing store in Williamsburg, while moonlighting as a drummer for a band called Scorpio Rising and styling music videos and photo shoots for niche fashion glossies like Dossier and Purple. She later went on to work as an assistant to Francesco Clemente, the Italian painter’s nomadic and stylistically varied approach proving an inspiration to Love’s own design work. “I think creating my jewelry while having such close proximity to an amazing artist affected the way I saw things,” she says. “I try to approach jewelry design as though it is an art, and I try to have art in my life every day.”

Unable to find jewelry she liked in stores, and with the encouragement of Clemente, Love began making her own. She had no formal design training, but she did have a stack of books, a torch and a tank. “I was kind of terrified that I was going to burn the house down,” she admits.

“I don’t think there was ever a pivotal moment,” Love says, referring to the diverse trajectory she has taken en route to becoming founder of Pamela Love Inc. “I was doing it as a hobby and a store was interested in purchasing some of it. That led to a couple of stores buying it, and then a little bit more and a little bit more. I was so stoked. I just sort of fell into it.”

Introductions to some of Manhattan’s most influential fashion editors got Love an ‘in’: exposure attracted big buyers from the likes of Bergdorf Goodman in New York, Colette in Paris and Liberty’s in London and sales grew. Chance meetings aside though, what Love had then and still has today is signature – like Diane Von Furstenberg’s wrap dress or Burberry’s trench, she continues to reinvent her wheel in beautifully chilling ways.

“Every season I try to incorporate new techniques, materials and technology into my traditional ideas,” she says, citing travel (“the American Southwest, Mexico, and Morocco”) and music (“Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash, The Ramones, Iggy Pop… I never create jewelry or design without it”) as major sources of inspiration.

“The Fall 2013 collection was actually inspired by some of my favorite childhood memories, specifically the idea of secrets and secrets between friends,” she says. “I’m really curious about the Illuminati and other secret societies.”

The result is an accomplished collection of talisman-inspired pieces with third-eye detail, including chunky cuffs, ruby-encrusted pendants and double-finger serpent-head rings – Love’s affection for nature’s thorniest creations still evident, with heart motifs introducing a slightly softer, sentimental quality. “I try not to think about trends,” she says. “I focus on what I love and what is timeless.”

While Love may prioritize longevity, her aesthetic is trending and copycat retailers are all over it, churning out inexpensive versions of Love-inspired cage rings, spiked earrings and rosary headpieces. But is imitation the sincerest form of flattery when market saturation can spell disaster for something as identifiable as a Pamela Love talon cuff? “Yes, it’s annoying because I know that these pieces are created in a very inhumane way, and that is a world I don’t want my ideas contributing to,” she says, pointing out that she uses recycled metal and ethically sourced gemstones, and is committed to sustainability and localized production.

“My challenge is to expand those elements into more directional designs,” she continues. “I’m not going to start fresh from scratch every season. I know what motifs matter to me.”

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